So you've rushed from work to pick up the 12-year-old from her middle school, then the 6-year-old from his elementary school, and now you're stuck in traffic wondering if you'll make it to the daycare in time to pick up the youngest before it closes. Then it's the drive-thru at the nearest fast food joint, and maybe, just maybe, you can make it in time for the second half of soccer practice. Sound familiar?
For families needing a bit more flexibility and hands-on involvement than conventional childcare or nannies provide, Au Pair Foundation can be a great option. Au Pair Foundation provides a cultural exchange program; young women and men between the ages of 18 and 26 from around the world are placed with American host families where they spend 12 to 24 months providing live-in child care in exchange for housing, a weekly stipend and assistance with tuition at a local college or university.
An au pair provides up to 45 hours of childcare per week. During these hours they are also available to help with household chores as they relate to the children, including helping with kids' laundry, picking up their rooms and cooking meals for the children. Most of Au Pair Foundation's au pairs are licensed drivers and are also available to help transport children to and from school, practices, playdates, etc. With host families being charged a family rate, rather than per child, it's often an affordable option for families with multiple children. Because they are live-in childcare providers, it's important that host families have a private room available for the au pair, and a semi-private bath (many share with the children).
Host families and au pairs have the opportunity to share their native countries' cultures and traditions. Au Pair Foundation currently helps place au pairs from Sweden, France, Germany, Spain, Turkey, Ukraine, Moldova, China, Thailand, Mexico, Argentina, Colombia and Brazil, and will soon be working with Ecuador as well. According to Carrie Crompton, National Director of Field Operations for Au Pair Foundation, both the host family and the au pair benefit from the cultural immersion the program provides.
"Hosting an au pair is a flexible, affordable option for families in the United States that are looking for childcare that is a bit more flexible than a daycare or nanny and is also a cultural exchange program that helps expose host children to the idea that there are people outside the United States," Crompton said. "It's a cultural exchange for the au pairs as well, so it's a dual exchange program."
Au Pair Foundation is a national organization that provides services to families throughout the United States. Au Pair Foundation follows extensive procedures in vetting potential au pair candidates, beginning with thoroughly researching its international exchange program partners. Au Pair Foundation then requires potential au pairs to complete an extensive application and provide documentation, professional references, character references, a valid passport and driver's license, a completed criminal background check and proof of high school graduation. Finally, all candidates are required to complete a personality and adaption profile to ensure they are a good fit for the program.
Once accepted into the program, au pairs are matched to host families based on the hours of expertise and experience they have with various age groups. A family with a newborn, for example, would be matched to an au pair with extensive newborn experience.
The U.S. Department of State requires all au pairs have at least 200 hours of childcare experience; according to Crompton, most of their au pairs have closer to 1,000 hours of experience. Their thorough candidate review process and personal attention to each host family and au pair earned Au Pair Foundation 2014 Au Pair Agency of the Year, an honor bestowed by the Au Pair Clearinghouse and voted on by current host families.
"We are a smaller agency — we are a more boutique agency — so we are able to provide more personalized service to both our au pairs and our families," Crompton said. "We really get to know everyone."